Travel lessons from the Merchant Marines

Written by on January 19, 2012 in Guest Posts, Travel Tips - 14 Comments

Editor’s Note: Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I’m enjoying some gum surgery and medication, so in the meantime, enjoy this guest post from one of my favorite bloggers. And, if you want to contribute a guest post, feel free to contact me

I joined the merchant Navy when I was 16. From that age until 22, that was all I knew. Working hard, partying harder and constantly moving taught me a few things which are I have transferred to my travels now.

As a young buck in the Merchant Marines.

Six travel lessons for any traveler … courtesy of my time in the Merchant Marines

1. Explore everything.

I visited many exotic and beautiful places when I worked at sea. The problem? We always ended up going to the bar. When I look back, I feel so frustrated at all the opportunities I missed to go and explore more. Now when I visit a place, I like to explore as much as possible. Even if that amounts to simply taking a different walk home every day (although I often get lost).

2. The majority of people are good people.

We were at anchor for a month off the coast Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean. We had taken to driving our small rescue boat, a tiny boat with a small engine on the back, ashore every other day to enable us to see the coast, go fishing, go for a meal and other activities. Normally, we  tie the boat to a jetty. However, on this occasion there was no space for us. Rather then turn back, we decided we would just beach the boat and go get a meal. When we returned to our boat, left at the waterline two hours earlier, was now about 10-ft up from the waters edge. The tide had gone out and we were stuck. Or we would have been had it not been for about a handful of old women coming and helping us push it back into the water.

3. You will never have the perfect plan.

You cannot plan for everything when traveling.  There are far too many variables. The more you learn how to plan on the fly and cope with change, the better your travels.

Strawberry Jam

Creative Commons: WhitneyinChicago

4. There is no real cure for motion sickness.

I was once seasick for four days. I tried everything, but to no avail. If you suffer from motion sickness, you just have to ride it out! One tip though — if you do suffer horrific motion sickness eat jam sandwiches and drink lots of fruit juice and water. Hydration helps with everything and the jam sandwiches don’t taste that bad when they “come back.”

Anna Maersk in Harbor

Creative Commons: Tyler Haglund

5. Things take time.

This is probably the most important lesson I learned. Sailing across the Pacific takes around 10 days. Thats a long time. Sometimes bridge watch would get monotonous and the hours would seem to drag. If patient then you will truly appreciate that landfall when you first see it. A good way to deal with excess time on the road is to have a hobby. I like to write because it is portable, I can do it anywhere and it takes up loads of time.

6. Stress happens.

When you are around the Far East sometimes the radar screen just goes yellow. This is not from interference or weather or anything. This is, in fact, hundreds of tiny wooden fishing boats. Four hours of weaving through these small crafts is one of the most delicate and stressful things you can experience at sea. And everyone copes differently. My friend Alan used to simply chain smoke, I on the other hand would bottle it all up and then go for a hard gym session after my watch. How you deal with stress while traveling can make or break an experience.

So those are my lessons. They may work for you. They may not. But trust me on the jam sandwiches!

What lessons have you learned? 

About the Author: James Cook is a writer at He has been travelling for the majority of his adult life and has just spent the last year in New Zealand. Our Oyster focuses on documenting his travel experiences, while at the same time providing practical information as well as budget travel tips. Currently James and his partner, Jade, are exploring all Australia has to offer. You can find him at Facebook and on Twitter.


Think you’ve mastered these lessons? Try your hand and test it out travelling to Greece.


About the Author

Diana Edelman is an avid traveler who recently spent four years living as an expat. Most notably, Diana spent nearly three years in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she worked with Save Elephant Foundation to raise awareness about the realities of elephant tourism. Currently based in Las Vegas, Diana works in many industries as a publicist, social media expert, content creator and journalist. The founder of Vegans, Baby, you can normally find her hanging out at vegan restaurants around town, exploring the beauty of the desert southwest or camped out at a coffee shop banging on a keyboard. The co-founder of the Responsible Travel & Tourism Collective, Diana has spoken at conferences about travel blogging and responsible tourism.

14 Comments on " Travel lessons from the Merchant Marines "

  1. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 21, 2012 at 10:04 am · Reply

    Nice lessons!

    • James - January 22, 2012 at 2:46 am · Reply

      Thanks Andi. It was good to learn them while I was working as well! 🙂

    • Diana January 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm · Reply

      Aren’t they? 🙂

  2. Abby January 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm · Reply

    How old were you in that photo? You look so sweet and innocent! Interesting that you’ve had a life of travel since you were 16. Wow.

    • James - January 22, 2012 at 2:48 am · Reply

      I was around sixteen and a half in that photo. I shaved my hair off because I wanted it short but was unable to get a proper haircut! And it was quite an interesting life traveling round.

      • Diana January 22, 2012 at 10:37 pm · Reply

        It really sounds like an interesting life! My dad always wanted me to do something like this!

  3. Christy January 23, 2012 at 12:41 am · Reply

    Great lessons. I especially agree with number 5. I still have a hard time remembering that one when I’m in the moment and wanting things to happen now! 🙂

    • Diana January 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm · Reply

      Haha. Yes! Me, too!

  4. cheryl howard January 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm · Reply

    Wow, what an amazing experience. And now you’re a world class RTW traveller! Thanks for sharing … 🙂

  5. Raymond @ Man On The Lam February 5, 2012 at 3:07 am · Reply

    Here’s a lesson I just learned — why they’r called “merchant” marines. I never knew that. (yes, I’m going to make you Google it if you don’t know…) 🙂

    • Diana February 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm · Reply

      Hahaa!! I need to go and look it up! I feel like I knew in my younger days, but no longer maintain that little nugget of knowledge.

  6. Sam @ Green Global Travel October 21, 2013 at 10:49 am · Reply

    Great lessons! I especially love the first one. I am a travel junkie, so I never know if I am going to return to any places I previously traveled because I usually have 5 more places on my travel bucket list that I need to visit for the first time, so I always try to see as much as possible where ever I go.

    • Diana October 23, 2013 at 9:34 am · Reply

      Good attitude! There are some places I am so in love with though, I WANT to go back before I go somewhere else. Maybe for a stopover?

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